Police cluster in front of the 40th Precinct station house.

Smoke shops in Melrose are causing a stir, worrying adults about the young people who frequent them.

At the 40th Precinct Community Council’s Feburary meeting, a representative from the sheriff’s office told the public gathered at the YMCA on Courtlandt Ave. that complaints against illegal smoke shops have gone up locally. Although only two smoke shops citywide have been licensed, both in Manhattan, that hasn’t stopped hundreds of other smoke shops from opening and operating illegally, he said.

Melrose native Marty Rogers expressed anger that Puff Puff Pass, at 605 Courtlandt Ave. has cartoon characters in its windows—-a surefire way, he said, to draw in teens from the six different schools in its radius. The schools include Bronx Haven High School, the Immaculate Conception School and the Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School.

Under New York’s Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act, cannabis shops cannot be located within 500 feet of schools, or 200 feet of houses of worship. But Puff Puff Pass’ proximity to the schools prompted Principal Alexandra Benjamin of Immaculate Conception School to write a letter to Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr.’s office to report the violation, Rogers said.

“The police officers did go in to make them spray paint pictures of Mickey Mouse on the outside, but Mickey Mouse is still on the inside. Little kitty is still on the inside; cannabis products are still sold,” said Rogers, who regularly serves food to homeless people and leads prayer walks around the neighborhood. 

An officer from the 40th Precinct countered that the shop sells food and other household staples, but Rogers was unmoved.

“We will stand there and dance on the sidewalk in front of that place,” he said. “It’s a little disturbing when the police officers say they also sell other things,” and “defends an illegal smoke shop across the street from a high school.”

Community members can email the sheriff’s department at taxcop@finance.nyc.gov with complaints about specific smoke shops they feel are violating the law.

Other issues that the council touched on:

  • In the wake of the brutal killing of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols in Memphis last week at the hands of police officers, the community council’s volunteer president Gabriel De Jesus said there would be an “increased police presence to make sure people can express themselves safely.”
  • Mott Haven is reckoning with a rise in car break-ins and burglaries, up 130% in the last 28 days in neighboring Hunts Point. Board 1 announced at its December meeting that it would send a letter to the NYPD urging a quicker response to vehicle break-ins, after residents say they were told the precinct lacked the resources to respond to those break-ins. The Herald has not received a response from Community Board 1, however, about whether a letter has been sent. 
  • Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. announced that he has co-sponsored legislation in the city council, calling on the NYPD to organize monthly gun buyback programs in every borough.
  • In wake of the recent killing of a teenager in Longwood, the community council highlighted a local Saturday Night Lights events, to bring police and young people in the area together through activities like basketball and soccer. At least 100 sites across the city participate in Saturday Night Lights, offering evening programs.Those sites include one at 600 St. Ann’s Avenue, another at The Boy’s Club of New York at 321 E 111th St in East Harlem, and BronxWorks Inc., at 286 E 156th Street in Melrose. All of the Bronx locations for the program can be found here: https://www.canva.com/design/DAElsNhV5QU/XUQFtOl29Z4JJ8mZ74fEnQ/view?website#4.

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